Dateline: March, 2008, Issue 4

Are leading or non-leading questions better at exposing inaccurate witnesses?

Wells and colleagues (1979) explored how the type of question an attorney asks in cross-examination - leading or non-leading - affects whether jurors believe a witness. In this research, 42 eyewitnesses to a staged theft were cross-examined with either leading or non-leading questions. Some witnesses had made an accurate identification of the thief, while other witnesses made an inaccurate identification.

Jurors were unable to distinguish accurate from inaccurate witnesses, regardless of the questioning style.

However, when leading questions were used, jurors were more likely to believe accurate than inaccurate witnesses; and when non-leading questions were used, jurors were more likely to believe inaccurate than accurate witnesses.

Jurors are more likely to make a correct decision about a witness' accuracy when leading questions are used in cross-examination.

Source Wells, G. L., Lindsay, R. C., & Ferguson, T. J. (1979). Accuracy, confidence, and juror perceptions in eyewitness identification. Journal of Applied Psychology, 64, pp. 440-448.